What airline pilots won't tell you
“This is your captain speaking”, is a commonly heard refrain by air travellers, but beyond the flight time, weather and comments about the seatbelt sign, pilots are not known for being too chatty. But what would the controller in the cockpit say if given the chance?
We scoured the question and answer community Quora.com to find answers from current and former pilots, as well as a few other industry professionals, all of whom let us in on a few secrets that airline pilots will not tell you.
We forgot about the seatbelt sign
“When you look up at the sign (and disregard it typically) and it has been illuminated for the last 45 minutes in smooth air, we simply forgot,” said a pilot for a major US airline, commenting anonymously. Some pilots leave it on for an entire flight, while others will leave it on for an extended period if they have reports of choppy weather ahead.
Do not drink the coffee
The same anonymous pilot advised passengers to steer clear of the brown stuff onboard. “The potable water the aircraft is serviced with is absolutely disgusting,” he said. “Chemicals are inserted into the water tanks to prevent bad things from growing, but the bad taste of the coffee isn't the coffee – it’s the chemicals.”
Turbulence is not that big a deal
While pilots will always have you buckle your seatbelt for safety, most pilots don’t worry about a few bumps. “Most crashes happen during takeoff or landing,” said Quora member Joe Torres “You can compare it to a speedboat travelling over water: the boat bounces as it goes over choppy water. Your plane isn't going to ‘fall’ out of the sky when it hits choppy air.”
Air traffic control delays are not air traffic control’s fault
FAA traffic control specialist Paul Cox weighed in, placing the blame on airlines for over scheduling. “A standard, one-runway airport with well-designed taxiways can safely handle, in good weather, around 60 operations an hour – one per minute,” Cox said. Delays happen when bad weather shows up and “they can only land 30 planes per hour”, delaying the other 30. Instead of scheduling for bad weather days, airlines pack as many flights in as they can.
We get paid less than you think
The anonymous pilot and a few other users mentioned the bare bones salary that most starting pilots receive. “While they carry immense responsibility for countless lives annually and have advanced training, they typically earn less than a preschool teacher,” said user David Carpe. The anonymous pilot confirmed, saying it was typical for a regional airline first officer to make no more than $16,000 in their first year on the job.
We never want to say too much
“There is also an art to revealing just what’s going on without giving away TMI [too much information],” said pilot Eric Auxier, who has been flying for a major airline since 1990. “While I can’t exactly jump on the PA and say, ‘olks, pay no attention to the burning wing’, I also must avoid describing ad nauseum exactly what the mechanics onboard are fixing.” Instead, he opts for a calm and reassuring message, like: “Our ace mechanics are onboard resetting one of our black boxes. We should be underway in a few minutes.”